CN plan to scrap Whistler rail line off table 

Proposal originally tabled with the 2010 Olympic bid in mind

The provincial government is currently entertaining several proposals from companies to operate freight and passenger services on B.C. Rail lines, but a CN plan that would remove the tracks between Whistler and North Vancouver isn’t one of them.

Both CBC and ran stories last week on the CN plan, which was submitted to the government in August of 2002. Prior to that, the B.C. government had issued a request for proposals from private companies to operate freight and passenger services around the province. About half a dozen companies responded, including B.C. Rail.

All operations are indeed for sale, according to a Ministry of Transportation spokesperson, but the government has promised from the beginning that they would maintain ownership of the tracks and railbed, and would keep the existing rail infrastructure intact.

"The CN proposal that was floated to government wasn’t put through any formal process," said Shawn Robins, the director of communications for the Ministry of Transportation.

"The proposal included a plan to tear up the track and rail bed to Whistler, and is not on the table any more."

According to Robins, the proposal was made before any decisions regarding the Olympic transportation plan were reached.

"The minister still has plans to use the track bed and do some paving for use in the Olympic Games, but that is with the tracks still in place," Robins said.

In addition, the paved sections of track, which would have gaps to continue to allow trains to pass through, would likely be restored to normal use after the Games.

Robins said that the CN plan has since been withdrawn, as a new request-for-proposal system is put into place.

The plan itself did call for the removal of the track between Whistler and North Vancouver, and building a two-lane highway in its place. The plan also included a proposal to re-open the rail link to Dawson Creek, and to shift freight traffic to Prince Rupert for transport by ship.

According to Alan Dever, the vice-president of communications for B.C. rail, "The great majority of our business comes through the corridor down through Whistler." He added that the sale of B.C. Rail is a provincial matter and that the decision on proposals is ultimately the provincial government’s responsibility.

John Haibeck, who is the president of a company that wants to build an 80-room hotel and train station at Nita Lake, brought the issue up with the Transportation Minister Judith Reid last week. He said he was reassured by the minister that the government had not had a change of heart and would stand by its election promise to maintain the ownership and integrity of the track and railbed.

"We’re totally positive," said Haibeck.

Although the passenger rail service between North Vancouver and Prince George ceased in October 2002, the track is still of interest to Whistler and local companies.

Whistler Rail Tours is hoping to open a high-end passenger rail service from North Vancouver to Whistler, stopping at the proposed Nita Lake Lodge. The company would cater to tourists from the Vancouver market, including the cruise ship industry.

There is also a proposal to build a passenger rail line from Washington to Canada that would go on to Alaska.

In addition to moving lumber and other freight, the rail line is currently used by Centra Gas to deliver propane to Whistler, and could figure prominently in any future waste management plan for Whistler and the corridor.

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